The main benefit of meal planning is that it streamlines meal time. You know in advance what to have on hand and ready to go. If you need to thaw some chicken breasts, you can do it in the morning so they’re ready to go at dinnertime. Last minute runs to the grocery store are unnecessary. And you can get started on dinner right away instead of wasting time searching the refrigerator and pantry to see what ingredients you have and hemming and hawing over what to cook.
Saving money is the other big benefit of meal planning. When you get good at it, you can plan your meals around sales and deals, and you can really refine your grocery budget. And no, you don’t have to eat spaghetti every night to do it. I promise.
But there are other benefits that may be less obvious.
The Less Obvious Benefits of Meal Planning
Meal planning does so much more than save you time and money. Meal planning is also such a great way to help reduce decision fatigue. That’s when you have had to use so much brain power making decisions all day long that you eventually get to the point where you don’t make the best decisions because your brain is exhausted and you don’t give your decisions much thought. It’s a real thing.
We face so many decisions on a daily basis. Like what to wear, if you should stop for gas before or after school drop-offs, whether to get the organic grapes that cost 3x as much as the conventionally grown grapes, if you should allow your daughter to wear her tutu to preschool. (My answer is always yes, by the way, because tutus feed her bliss and I’m all about embracing your own personal style.)
When you haven’t planned dinner, you’re much more likely to choose easier, but less healthy options. This might mean frozen pizza or chicken nuggets. It might also be the drive thru on your way home from work. And you’re less likely to do that if you have chicken breasts thawed and ready to go.
Another added benefit I’ve found to meal planning is that I can use it to help elevate the general happiness level of my home. Meal times can be HARD for families, especially when you have picky eaters. And I don’t really consider my kids to be extreme, but they do have their strong likes and dislikes. And of course, all three of them have to have different favorites. But I have one kid who is the most vocal and stubborn about her dislikes.
I use meal planning to make sure each kid is getting a dinner he/she loves on a regular basis. I also try to make sure my husband and I get our favorites on occasion too. Otherwise, it would be really easy to fall into a rut of constantly fighting with my stubborn kid.
That kind of daily fighting really wears on me (and her), and I fear it would contribute to shaping our relationship over time. It also sets the mood for the rest of the evening. If dinner is a battle, bath and bedtime are sure to be difficult too.
So I use meal planning to make sure everyone is regularly getting meals they love while also making sure we aren’t eating mac & cheese for dinner every night. Because Happy + Healthy is always a win.